Twenty years ago, on April 4, 1989, Redeemer Presbyterian Church held its first worship service. We met at the Church of the Advent Hope, at 111 East 87th Street, a Seventh-Day Adventist Church, which worships on Saturdays, and which would be Redeemer’s home for the next four years.
Tim and I were still living in Philadelphia with the boys, who at that time were eleven, nine and five years old. We commuted (with one son at a time!) to New York weekly to meet for prayer with people who had shown an interest in helping to begin a new church, one that would be “for people who don’t like church.” We wanted to avoid the usual model of “church planting,” where one says “Finally, if I get in on the ground floor of this new church I can make sure it’s the way I’ve always wanted a church to be.” Rather than that inward focus, Redeemer was from the beginning outwardly focused.
When it became apparent that people were just too eager to wait for the fall to begin services, we decided to start in April, even though we wouldn’t be moving to New York for another two months. For that reason, and also to allow people to “try out” Redeemer, we scheduled the service for 6:00 p.m. (Didn’t you always wonder why the jazz band was called “The Six O’clock Band”?)
Tim worked on a sermon—Jesus our Lawyer, we think it was—and I produced a bulletin, an introductory brochure, found a pianist, bought bagels and coffee and coffee urns and all that went with a hospitality hour. When the time came for the service and no one but us was there we said, “Well, there it is. God isn’t in this. We’ll pack up and go home.” (No one had explained the New Yorker’s peculiar relationship to start times, something to do with public transportation as much as with ambivalence.)
Ten minutes later the pews had about 90 people in them, enough to look not-entirely-empty. My memories of that service have been so overlaid with memories of subsequent services that I don’t have a clear picture of any of it, except the drive home. We were in a state of mild shock, (it was really happening), fear (it was really happening), and exultation (it was really happening.)
There would be other milestones in 1989 (which we will mention from time to time in the newsletter and elsewhere) but that was the first. And I don’t think we’ve ever gotten over the shock, fear, and exultation.